Use of Blended Learning and Individualized Education Increases

Published December 10, 2014

Global demand for online learning is growing. In 2000, 45,000 K-12 students reportedly took online courses. Less than a decade later, the number had grown to more than three million. Projecting from the increase in online course usage in 2000 to 2009 in the K-12 sector, by 2019 50 percent of K-12 students could be taking online courses.

Six years ago the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, by Clayton M. Christensen, changed the nation’s education landscape, introducing bold predictions about innovative technology driving individualized education.

Blended learning is commonly known as an education program in which a student learns, at least in part, through digital and online media content and instruction, with some level of student control.

The book notes the importance of personalized learning and logical approaches to introducing it successfully in American classrooms even as technology improves and use increases.  Christensen defines the pattern of disruptive innovation and its transformative effects on education.

“We know the prediction, we know what’s on the horizon, but how do we actually create it in a high-quality way?” a said Heather Staker, senior research fellow at the Clayton Christiansen Institute.

Serves As a Design Guide

In October 2014, authors Michael Horn and Staker published Blended, a classical design guide to Disrupting Class and as Staker describes it, the “application [guide].”

“It’s apparent that districts and school leaders see the potential of personalized learning and using the Internet to provide access to opportunities that weren’t available before, but knowing where to get started is difficult,” Staker said. “The interest and demand have just skyrocketed, it’s proven to be a very fertile area for research.”

The book cycles through four main concepts: understanding, mobilizing, designing, and implementing blended learning. The authors describe a variety of models currently in use and cite some of the most successful networks in the field, including Rocketship and Carpe Diem.

Video clips embedded throughout the text allow readers to access footage of real-life blended learning classrooms and educator discussions of implementation.

Implemented Carefully

Cristo Rey Network school San Jose Jesuit opened its doors in California’s Silicon Valley in 2014 after a successful summer bridge program utilized online learning to place and advance entering students.

Unlike other schools in the Cristo Rey Network, San Jose based its school model on a blended learning platform; hiring the appropriate expert to map out a successful blended environment was key.

Blended Learning Director Francisco Castillo-Fierro spent a year collaborating with leadership and researching successful blended programs nationwide.

The most successful programs are student-directed and have collaborative, adaptive leadership guiding the blended environment, Castillo-Fierro said.

“Most schools have different approaches on how they enter the blended arena,” he said. “Some research and then have teachers try to develop on their own and come together with professional development. Other schools have third-party companies and implement best practices.… For us in particular, we wanted to be very student-centered in our model, agency, personalization, mastery, and relationships. Those are the four main pieces when we were creating our blended learning model.”

Targeting Outcomes

“I can see that in my past as a teacher, I was constrained by trade-offs.… Online learning offers the chance to custom-deliver learning opportunities matched to each student,” writes Christensen in his forward to the book.

The authors of Blended say they hope to reduce tradeoffs and eliminate guesswork.

“I think as a community we’ve clarified our goals. We’re more attuned to the benefits of a more personalized system: one can tailor instruction to each student’s individual needs,” Staker said. “Today we understand that through good theory and good principles, we can innovate in ways that are less risky and more targeted toward specific outcomes.”

The book concludes with a blueprint for blended learning, and the authors’ note,

“Blended learning holds enormous potential to transform our factory-model education system into a student-centered design that captures the benefits of personalization, equity and access, and cost control. Although it is not a panacea, for increasingly antiquated schools—and the students in those schools—it’s an essential piece of the puzzle.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by Brad Flickinger.